The talk of Ohio - a history of the Talk-o-Phone phonograph

The Talk-o-Phone parrot put up a brief squack against the Victor dog

This article is part of the Noteworthy News archives.
See also:
TALK-O-PHONE ID GUIDE with color photographs (Feb, 2002)


Ohio's native phonograph was conceived by a boy from Brooklyn.

Wynant Van Zant Pierce Bradley of Brooklyn, New York, who had begun his career as a record pirate for the Zonophone company, filed a trademark registration for Talk-O-Phone and Monogram records in 1902.

The craze for the new disc record had been in bloom for about a year.

Bradley enlisted an Ohio resident named Albert Irish as his financial backer in the new Ohio Talking Machine Company.

The Toledo company's first venture was 7" and 10" single sided , black and silver Monogram discs. The monogram consisted of a stylization of the initials OTMC of the Ohio Talking Machine Company. "Gram" was emphasized in big bold letters, perhaps to sow confusion with the popular Gramophone.

In 1903 the first catalogue appeared, embellished with a Nipper derivative shaggy dog who possessed his own motto, "Familiar Voices." A comprehensive line of seven machines was offered. There was a small Premium Talk-O-Phone for $12. The remaining machines were named after famous band leaders. In ascending order of prices they were the Herbert, $15; the Brooke, $20; the Ennis, $25; the Chambers, $35; the Clarke, $45; and the Sousa.

HerbertTalk-o-Phone
Herbert Talk-o-Phone
BrookeTalk-o-Phone
Brooke Talk-o-Phone
EnnisTalk-o-Phone
Ennis Talk-o-Phone
ClarkeTalk-o-Phone
Clarke Talk-o-Phone

Beautiful, ornate cabinets adorned the more expensive offerings. The cabinet of the Clarke was almost identical to that of the Victor D. The Sousa, Talk-O-Phone's answer to the DeLuxe Monarch, could be joined with a matching base for an additional $125. At $75, the Sousa was $15 more expensive than Eldridge Johnson's prestige machine.

There's no evidence that Bradley secured permission from the honored bandleaders to appropriate their names, but on the other hand, there's no record of a lawsuit by the musicians against Bradley. It was an era when business practices were somewhat loose.

In 1904 a second Talk-O-Phone catalogue was issued. The shaggy dog was abandoned. The Talk-O-Phone parrot joined Nipper and the Pathe rooster in the phonographic menagerie. The Premium machine was dropped, but otherwise the Talk-O-Phone universe remained intact. The prices of the Sousa and Clarke were decreased $15 and $35, respectively.

In 1905 the Ohio Talking Machine Company trumpeted the introduction of a rear mounted, tapering tone arm machine in the pages of Talking Machine World. The model depicted sits in an oak case with pillars down the sides and a decorative center emblem. It appears to be the same case as the Standard Talking Machine, Style H. For legal reasons, Talk-O-Phone announced a mechanical feed screw on the machine, but no such production models have been found.

Few rear mounts were produced. By this time, Victor's litigious attorneys were snapping at Bradley's heels. His financial angel, Albert Irish, was forced into bankruptcy around 1908. The Toledo company's remaining efforts focused on the issuance of defiant statements and on the sale of records, manufactured by Leeds and Catlin. Occasionally an ad would appear in Talking Machine World predicting that Bradley would defeat the Victor interests.

But in April 1909 Leeds and Catlin itself was defeated by Victor in the United States Supreme Court and was assessed thousands of dollars in damages.

Clarke-ColumbiaTalkophone
Following Talk-o-Phone's demise, Columbia wound up with some of the cabinets. This Clarke Talk-o-Phone has been fitted with  Columbia parts.
Sousa Talk-o-Phone
Sousa Talk-o-Phone

Bradley returned to his vocation of record piracy. He founded the Continental record company in 1906. He was an honest thief. The label of each Continental record forthrightly stated that it was a duplicate of another recording. This dodge did not sit well with the major manufacturers, who again litigated Bradley out of business, and at this point Wynant Van Zant Pierce Bradley disappears from the annals of phonographic history.

Sources: Koenigsberg, Allen. Patent History of the Phonograph.

Copyright 2015 Lynn Bilton

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